The Ways You Have Failed Me

As expected, my public confessions of abuse resulted in an emotional barrage akin to a hurricane. The response was so swift and fierce that I was left breathless. It arrived via text message and frantic, tear-and-shallow-breath-filled phone calls. I read. I listened. I paused. Were the allegations true? Was I an emotionally unstable child in a woman’s body acting unfairly? Were my experiences the manufacture of an overactive imagination, my admissions false and vindictive? The accusations battered me. I shed my own tears, but I remembered my goals, assessed whether or not I was meeting or defeating them. I decided that, no, I was not outside the boundaries I had drawn to maintain my self-respect and also, no, I was not misremembering.


Abusers don’t want their victims to remember. They want to control our minds the way they control our pain. In the case of my parents, my abusers are deeply ashamed. It is tragic that they were abusers because they aren’t anymore, with the exception of the occasion grappling burst of gaslighting or intimidation. They don’t want me to remember because they don’t want to remember. But before that, they wanted to control my experience. Even after the hurting stopped, the pain persisted in the form of crippling and defining self-doubt. Into adulthood, I believed the hurting was earned, that I was at fault, that I was a person who deserved to be subservient to pain.

There is incredible power in a name. That is a fantasy trope-you control what you can label. Just as my behavior was molded by flat out denials that any abuse was happening, that I had provoked my own torment and it was thereby deserved, my recovery was shaped by the term for why I suffered flashbacks, irritability, anxiety and dissociation; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not something you can bounce back from, but great healing is possible. For me, that took the form of learning to remain present and conscious, first through traditional therapy, yoga, Shambhala meditation, training in energy work (Reiki), a women only gift circle, and, finally, non traditional therapy. During this long, curving process, I learned more words, gaslighting and intimidation among them.

Knowing those words protected me. When shit got hard, I stayed present and conscious, I remembered those words, and I did not let their use alter my course. Recognizing my own strength and employing it is liberating.

But it is also painful. Every word I write on this topic is a humiliating reminder to parents that worked to change. As a parent, I myself know the hurt of a child’s anguished litany after years of doing my absolute best. I have heard the words in many ways from my own child, “Mom, here is a list of the ways you have failed me.”

I believe there is something here, unexplored. How can I love parents who treated me with such disrespect? How can I disrespect parents who treated me with such love? I have no answers. Only the mantra I have brought to my own parenting: if you don’t want people to know you have done it, don’t do it. Words and actions, once performed, belong to those who receive them. We are no longer free to edit and shape. We must accept, reflect and hope.

Since my opening letter, my mother has explored my boundaries. She has wondered what I will share. I know she would love if I chose not to write on this topic again. At least, she has requested, could I use a pen name?

I understand. I had the incredible fortune once to sit with a woman named Cetti. Cetti heard the crack in my heart when I admitted that I wanted to hurt my child. I was shocked by my admission, but she was not. She sat with me while I cried and shook with fury at the legacy my parents had left me. I felt like a volcano seconds from eruption, and I considered my parents the tenders of my molten core.

Cetti said we all find fault in our parents. Valid or not, she advised me to let go of the rage. She said that road was never ending, and as a parent I knew it to be true. We all carry a family legacy of failings. If I blamed my parents for my parenting, l would have to blame my grandparents for their parenting, and so it would go until the dirt of every grave of every ancestor was churned and muddied with the plaintive, resentful, “Why?”

“Or,” was Cetti’s implication, “you can start from now.”

Okay. Yes. Now. That makes sense. History is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but now belongs to me.

Healthy Eating During Ramadan

*This post was contributed by my sister-in-law, Cheryl Ainslie-Waldman, who now has a PhD in Nutrition from University of Minnesota, back in 2009. It appeared on a blog Jehanzeb Dar and I co-published called Islam on My Side (now someone else’s blog). I like to repost this every year because the information is important, especially during a summer fast! Cheryl recommends increasing your liquid intake this year as the days are hot and long. Pay attention to that third paragraph for some tips on caffeine and juice intake while fasting. Please post questions in the comments section, and Cheryl will do her best to respond.

Hello, my name is Cheryl, and I am Shawna’s sister-in-law. I am a foods and nutrition student at Purdue University, and Shawna asked me to provide some dietary advice for the month of Ramadan. I hope to offer good advice to meet all nutritional needs and take care of the body during this time of fasting. All recommendations are for a typical 2000-calorie diet and can be modified to meet individual needs or preferences.

Pre-Dawn Meal
At the before sunrise meal, include most of the protein for the day. Protein is digested more slowly and will help maintain blood sugar throughout the day. Rapid rises and falls in blood sugar will result in increased hunger, irritability, and fatigue. Refined carbohydrates should be limited during this meal to avoid problematic changes in blood sugar. Include 4-6 ounces of lean meat, such as eggs, turkey bacon, or white-meat chicken. Beans or hummus are also good protein choices for breakfast. (Beans also count as vegetable servings.)

It is also important to include at least 4 cups of fluid during the first meal. Water, tea, coffee, and juice all contribute to fluid intake, but I would caution against drinking too much caffeine as it is an appetite stimulant and can also cause decreases in blood sugar. One hundred percent juice is a good source of nutrients but is also a concentrated source of sugar. Try to limit juice to one cup during this meal.

Fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy should also be included in this meal. Aim for at least 3 servings of fresh fruits or vegetables. One serving equals 1 medium piece, ½ cup raw, or 1 cup of leafy vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of fluid, fiber, and a balance of nutrients that will help to sustain energy. Whole grains are also a good choice for breakfast; try to eat at least 3 servings of grains, like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, or whole grain cereal. One serving of grains equals 1 ounce, which is usually 1 slice of bread, ½ cup of cooked cereal, or 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal. The meal should also include 1-2 servings of low-fat dairy foods. One serving of dairy equals 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1-½ ounces of cheese.

Fat contributes to satiety or a feeling of fullness, so it is a good idea to incorporate a moderate amount during breakfast. The healthiest fats come from vegetable sources, like olive oil, canola oil, or soft-tub margarine. Fry an egg in some olive oil, and spread some margarine on whole wheat toast. This will help prolong the energy from breakfast throughout the day.

In summary, the pre-dawn meal should include:
• 4-6 oz. lean protein (meat or beans)
• 4 c. fluid
• 3 servings of fresh fruits or vegetables
• 3 servings of whole grains
• 1-2 servings of low-fat dairy foods

The following is a sample meal following these guidelines:
• 2 egg omelet with ¼ c. each mushroom and spinach and 1 ½ oz.
part-skim mozzarella cheese
• 2 slices turkey bacon
• ¼ c. hummus with ½ whole wheat pita
• 1 c. oatmeal with ½ c. blueberries
• 1 medium banana
• 1 c. skim milk
• 1 c. coffee
• 1 c. orange juice
• 2 c. water

After-Sunset Meal
At the evening meal, it is very important to regain fluid losses from fasting. This meal should include an additional 4 cups of fluid and should emphasize vegetables because of their fluid content. Try to eat at least 4 servings of vegetables and 1-2 servings of fruits. Vegetable-based soups are an excellent choice for this meal. Try bean or legume-based soups for extra protein and fiber, which will promote satiety.

An additional 5 grain servings will help stabilize blood sugar. Having something sweet for dessert will also help sustain blood sugar throughout the night but eating too many sweets will have the opposite effect. The important thing is to make up for lost nutrients from fasting, not lost calories. A good dessert would be a few stuffed dates, oatmeal raisin cookies, or a nut-based confection. An additional 1-2 servings from the dairy group will also be needed to consume a total of 3 for the day.

In summary, the meal to break the fast should include:
• 4 c. fluid
• 4 servings of vegetables
• 1-2 servings of fruits
• 5 servings of grains
• 1-2 servings of dairy

The following is a sample meal based upon these guidelines:
• 2 c. black bean soup
• 12 whole grain crackers
• 1 c. tomato salad with olive oil and 1 ½ oz. feta cheese
• 1 whole wheat pita
• ½ c. hummus
• 5 dates
• 2 oatmeal raisin cookies
• 2 c. herbal tea
• 2 c. water

Eating During the Night
The previous guidelines included all the food servings needed for the day. If you happen to wake up hungry in the middle of the night, choose a small snack that combines protein and whole grains, like bread and peanut butter. Try to not get in the habit of eating a great deal in the middle of the night.

If you are continually hungry during the night, one helpful tactic may be to break up the first meal into two smaller meals. Eat a few choices, go back to bed, and eat the remaining choices during the second meal before sunrise. It is important to not “double-up” and overeat because of eating during the night.

One Final Note
There are endless choices of meal combinations following these guidelines. Increasing the variety of foods will help balance the nutrients that you are eating. Feel free to switch around the foods from meal to meal if it will better suit you. Remember to feed your body well.

Middle Finger Salute

I’m big on plans and lists. I like to plot out my day the night before. I plan my meals a week at a time. While my house is often a mess or I’m behind on chores, I have my ways of staying comfortably organized. However, for the last two weeks, nothing in life has gone as planned. My “simple procedure” to help ease the misery of repeat infections, excessive bleeding and other menstrual-related pain managed to amplify all of those problems to the point that I have had to make some tough decisions about my status as a woman with a uterus.

Organs are fascinating to me. You can lose a kidney and it doesn’t define you. But a uterus? That is an essential part of a woman’s experience of identity. Obviously, a heart is necessary, but getting a transplant doesn’t change who you are. Having your appendix out doesn’t alter you in the eyes of community. But removing organs related to sexuality or fertility is a different story. I have had several friends experience uterus-related crises: miscarriages, traumatic birth, lack of pregnancy, scarring, hysterectomy, and more. Each time, I have stopped to connect with their pain, to empathize with their struggles to see themselves as “full” or “complete” women when the organs of their gender have betrayed them.

I am done with my uterus, whether I keep it or not. I do not feel it defines me. I am grateful for the children it carried, but even in health, my relationship with this organ has been fitful.

Really, this post is not about me. This post is for those of you I have grieved with when your body performed in an unwanted way. There is a poem here. Writing it granted me catharsis. Maybe the friend I wrote it for will see it here and remember how we were angry and hurt together. How we shook our fists, but how we found hope enough again to move onward.


Dear Mr. Merciful

Forget the constructs.
Let’s both shout curses
Wave our middle fingers at God.
Yeah! Take that, Mr. All Mighty.
You messed with the wrong bitches!
Suck it up, Big Man in the Sky.
You don’t own us. You don’t even know us.
You fat-headed-ego-driven-cloud-humping-hope-vacuum.
You suck!

You you you. Always You. You suck!

Let’s do it.
Let’s rend our pillows and fling them at God.
Let’s run amok, drink ‘til we’re sloppy with these unshed tears, cry out
until our voices give.
God, you stupid

Take that, Mr. Merciful.
You can keep your fancy heaven.
No doubt your glorious palace is full to bursting.
Keep collecting, Garbage Man.
We don’t need all that noise.
You want to break us until we’re convinced, but you won’t.
No matter how many lives you leave unfinished. . .

You won’t.
You. Will. Not.
Take that.

We’re better off without you.